Another England flop in second Test against Sri Lanka and captain Strauss is in trouble

England did their best on Sunday to insist Tuesday's second Test is 'just another match' but the stakes could barely be higher for a once all-conquering team suddenly in desperate need of a win.

Defeat and another batting failure for Andrew Strauss at the historic P Sara Oval here would have immense repercussions for an England side who were supposed to conquer their final frontier this winter but instead are close to being back to square one.

Testing time: Strauss is in need of a score but he looked good in the nets
Testing time: Strauss is in need of a score but he looked good in the nets

Testing time: Strauss is in need of a score but he looked good in the nets

If Sri Lanka win or even draw at the ground where their very first Test was staged against Keith Fletcher's England 30 years ago then England's hard-earned world No 1 status will have gone and serious questions will be asked of Strauss's longevity as leader.

Strauss looked good in the nets on Sunday, sweeping regularly and productively, but then he has looked in decent nick all winter without coming close to that elusive century that would remove any doubts about his right to carry on for at least this summer.

This is a similar situation to the one Strauss found himself in four years ago when he approached the second innings of the final Test against New Zealand in Napier needing a big score to save his career.

He had been dropped for the tour of Sri Lanka that preceded it and found life in New Zealand very tough until, just when he needed it most, he made a glorious return to form with the most important century of his life.

Strauss has rarely looked back since. Until now.

Backing his captain: Jonathan Trott

Backing his captain: Jonathan Trott

It is not accurate to say that he is again batting for his future now, not least because he retains the full support of Andy Flower, Hugh Morris and the ECB and every member of his team, including heir apparent Alastair Cook.

There is not a single player who does not respect Strauss as a leader of immense stature and integrity who has taken them to the top of the world.

'I don't think this is any more important a game for Andrew Strauss than any other,' insisted Jonathan Trott, the one batsman to do his job properly in the first Test defeat at Galle, after his extended net on Sunday.

'He is our captain and that's the way it is. I don't think we see a situation where he's not our leader.

'Everyone has their ups and downs in cricket and you can look at when Alastair Cook struggled before scoring all those runs on an Ashes tour. Cricket can be cruel but that little bit of luck will soon come Andrew's way and everyone will then be very happy for him.'

Yet it is the doubts that may build in Strauss's own mind that will threaten the long-term future of one of the most successful captains in England's history if he and his team fail again now.

The first problem that England face is one of their more tricky selection posers, complicated by the return home injured of Stuart Broad, whose control and penetration alongside Jimmy Anderson has allowed England to field just two seamers all winter.

Gamble: Steve Finn has not had much experience

Gamble: Steve Finn has not had much experience

Steven Finn, much improved and unlucky not to have played more Tests, is the natural replacement for Broad, but his lack of experience and, at times, control increase the sense of a gamble that his inclusion in a two-seamer, two-spinner attack would represent.

Tim Bresnan is a strong candidate to join Anderson and Finn, not least because England have won each of the 10 Tests he has played in and that sense of the Yorkshireman being a lucky charm is just what England need now after four straight Test defeats.

Needs to find form: Matt Prior

Needs to find form: Matt Prior

My preference would be to leave out Samit Patel, while assuring him that it is no reflection on his debut in Galle, and play both Finn and Bresnan in a proper five-man attack, backing a top six which would again include Matt Prior finally to come good.

Yes, there has been little wrong with England's bowling from a fourman attack all winter and the batting has been the problem.

However, in a must-win game England need every attacking resource at their disposal and Bresnan is perfectly capable of batting at seven.

England are more likely to just bring Finn in for Broad or, if the bit of bounce that seemed to be in the P Sara wicket on Sunday remains, add Bresnan too but leave out Monty Panesar instead of Patel.

No option is ideal but a difficult call has to be made.

Whatever England do at this intimate little ground the onus will be on the under-performing batsmen to get it right, starting with Strauss winning the toss and then going out to prove that his game really is not in decline.

An awful lot may depend on it.

TV: Tuesday, Sky Sports 1, 5am (match starts 5.30am).

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